The start of a new year always brings a raft of changes and challenges. As teachers, we are constantly reflecting on our own practice but, at times, it’s important to remember not to be too self-critical. Obviously, reflecting on what you would improve is a worthwhile pursuit, but it’s also important to focus on what we should celebrate and do more of. Which texts made your class smile and laugh out loud? Which stories left them hanging on your every word and complaining when you stopped reading? What did you do to make that tricky SPaG concept more engaging and accessible to all? Take a little time to think back and use those great moments in the classroom to propel you into the new school year with a positive outlook.
At the beginning of the last academic year, we introduced a new Literacy Team to develop literacy across the school. Each person within the team had responsibility for one key area – Reading, Writing, SPaG – but we all worked together to develop our whole school approach. Being given the role of Literacy Leader can be a daunting prospect. Tempting as it may be to simply focus on ‘English’ lessons, literacy is much, much more than that; weaving it’s way across the entire curriculum.
So, if you’re a new literacy leader this year, or simply looking to improve your literacy practice, where do you begin?
Completing a self-evaluation framework is always a good place to start and we found the National Literacy Trust’s membership resource, the Annual Literacy School Review, to be the perfect mechanism for this. It’s essentially a checklist to help you evaluate your current literacy provision. Helpfully, it’s broken down into nine core literacy areas (early reading and phonics, reading enjoyment, reading comprehension, writing culture, writing curriculum, embedding the writing process, vocabulary grammar and punctuation, transcription and spoken language), which enables you to identify strengths and any areas for development.
From this, we created a robust literacy development plan and calendar which now guides our subject leadership and priorities for the year ahead. This year, I developed this one step further by creating a Literacy Calendar which highlights all of the key national reading and writing days or weeks, competitions and other exciting opportunities to engage and inspire children to read and write, building upon our whole-school Literacy for Pleasure philosophy and approach. It’s useful to share this at the beginning of the year so staff can weave these into their units of work, rather than simply tacking them on as ‘one day wonders’.
To support our evidence-based approach, we used the checklists in tandem with the National Literacy Trust’s Annual Literacy Research and Policy Guide. Updated every year, this compilation of recent research and policy is presented as an easily digestible summary that is also broken down into the nine key literacy areas. So, if for example we’d identified ‘vocabulary, grammar and punctuation’ as an area for development, we could jump straight to the latest research on this topic alongside practical suggestions for the classroom, which in turn helped to inform our action points for the year ahead.
I am always looking for creative concepts and whole school strategies to inspire and engage pupils in reading and writing across the curriculum (and the whole school!) and I’d like to share some of the most successful approaches with you:
1. Inspirational learning environments
Take a trip to any primary school and you’ll hopefully find classroom environments that inspire adults and children alike. Not only should children’s work be prominently displayed and celebrated, but a wide range of learning prompts and interactive displays should act as inspiration and support for pupils. Personally, I am a big fan of working walls and how these can impact on children’s learning.
2. Love your library
School libraries have an important impact on all areas of pupils’ learning and we want to encourage our children to discover new texts, genres and authors. School libraries should be inviting, well resourced and organised. Through the ‘Love our Libraries’ programme, which is available for free to all National Literacy Trust members, you can learn to transform your school library into an even greater learning space at the heart of our school community. Some schools go above and beyond by creating incredible library spaces in the most spectacular way – I’m a huge fan of The Wroxham School’s double decker bus outdoor library! Wow!
3. Immersive activities and experiences
I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of immersive experiences and the positive impact they can have on writing. Through trips and experiences, art, music composition, film projects, role play and drama, give children the chance to share vocabulary, ideas and concepts to give their reading and writing meaning and purpose. For example, our Year 2 children will visit a chocolate factory as part of their Roald Dahl unit and Year 5 are participarting in the National Literacy Trust’s Young City Poets project with a visit to Tower Bridge as a stimulus for poetry. Creative activities and experiences linked with quality texts ensure that children are fully prepared for, and excited about, their own writing journeys.
4. Clear purpose and audience
It sounds obvious but clear purpose and audiences are often forgotten. Children need to know why the quality of their writing matters: because there will be a real audience for their writing (and it’s not just their teacher!). Whether it’s sharing your poem with another class, reading your recount of a trip during an assembly, emailing an author, writing a letter to Santa or publishing an anthology of poetry via Amazon Young Storyteller, make it a priority to provide children with a clear purpose to all reading and writing tasks. Engagement and enthusiasm will soar!
5. Encourage staff to share the Lit-Love
Whether it’s via Twitter, a teachers’ book club, on the staffroom notice board or in the form of a handy CPD guide, encourage staff to share their excitement, knowledge and passion for literacy. Perhaps start a staff meeting by sharing a favourite book or literacy lesson, better yet, start a teachers’ book club to encourage more reading for pleasure amongst staff. Think about book swaps, staff book reviews, literacy themed newsletters, assemblies, workshops, trips, visitors, INSETs… there are so many ways to promote and embed a love of literacy in school. It is our professional responsibility to widen our own personal knowledge of children’s literature, but it can also be sociable and fun! Passion and enthusiasm is infectious. If the teachers are buzzing about their love of literacy, the children will be too.
I hope you enjoy the last of the summer sunshine and I wish you all the very best start to the new academic year!
If you liked this article, you might also like these fantastic blog posts:
Teresa Cremin’s 7 creative ways teachers can get kids writing
Michael Rosen’s How to Shake Things Up in the Writing, Reading, Talking, Listening Field
Andy Seed’s Reading for Pleasure Manifesto
Literacy for Pleasure’s Creating a Community of Readers